Will you take the risk?

By Nikki Julien, info@natureplaylearning.com



What makes a person decide to take a risk or not to take a risk?

  • Probability of success vs fear of failure
  • Looking cool vs embarrassment
  • Development of physical prowess vs potential for injury
  • Having the physical capabilities, or not
  • Being bold enough vs being too timid
  • External pressures such as peer support or bullying
  • External forces that demand moving through that challenge (ie—the bear is chasing you so face the jump or be eaten)


Imagine a cliff.


The cliff I imagined is 2 feet tall on a beach with sand at the top and sand at the bottom. Will I take the risk of jumping down the cliff? You bet! That will be fun!


Same type of cliff but 6 feet high? Hmm… I’m usually carrying the backpack and camera and pulling the dog on the leash… could get a twisted ankle… sounds like too much of an inconvenience.


But if the cliff was 10 feet tall or had alligators at the bottom—nope, definitely not willing to take the risk. Yet, if there were alligators at the top, I would be willing to entertain the 10 foot sandy cliff.


But what if you are making these decisions for the small children in your care?

What if your nature play area has a cliff? Do you keep it? How do you decide if it’s safe or not? What factors go into that decision?

Broadly, there’s the physical make-up of the cliff (design) and there’s the make-up of the jumper (user).


Design variables include:

  • Affordance of cliff (what play behaviors can be done on that cliff: jumping, sliding, climbing?)
  • Height of cliff
  • Slope of cliff
  • Geologic composition of top, bottom and slope of cliff
  • Obstacles surrounding the cliff (tree roots for example)


User variables include:

  • Age
  • Physical capacities
  • Mental capacity for decision-making
  • Risk-taking or risk-avoidance personality
  • Awareness of self and surroundings
  • External pressures


Guidelines for design in nature play exist and are helpful in making design decisions but these guidelines are not enough. More research needs to be done and is being done but will this research alone be enough to convince play managers of the general safety of nature play?


Looking for Guidelines on managing risk in nature play, try these two resources:


Managing Risk in Play Provision put out by Play England in 2008 and updated in 2012.




Nature Play and Learning Places by Robin Moore with the Natural Child Initiative in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation:



About Nature Play Learning

www.NaturePlayLearning.com Nature Playspace Design and Coaching Concept design, professional development, and educational services.
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